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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 Masskara Festival in Bacolod


The Philippines is filled with festivals year round long. Each has its own unique theme and provides different kinds of experience. Masskara festival is one of the most popular festivals and is held every month of October for three weeks in Bacolod, the "city of smiles".

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I'll make my life easier by quoting Wikipedia on this one:

"The MassKara Festival is a week(3)-long festival held each year in Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental province in the Philippines every third weekend of October nearest October 19, the city's Charter. The festival first began in 1980 during a period of crisis. The province relied on sugar cane as its primary agricultural crop, and the price of sugar was at an all-time low due to the introduction of sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup in the United States. It was also a time of tragedy; on April 22 of that year, the inter-island vessel Anniversary. Don Juan carrying many Negrenses, including those belonging to prominent families in Bacolod City, collided with the tanker Tacloban City and sank. An estimated 700 lives were lost in the tragedy. In the midst of these tragic events, the city's artists, local government and civic groups decided to hold a festival of smiles, because the city at that time was also known as the City of Smiles. They reasoned that a festival was also a good opportunity to pull the residents out of the pervasive gloomy atmosphere"...

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So, there it was The Masskara Festival was conceived out of the procession of tragedies and economic downturn. Just like the Eraserheads' song "pag may problema ka magsuot ng maskara", indeed, wearing a mask brings a different outlook in life and makes you withstand everything with just having a positive attitude and a go-forth bravado and 30 years later the smiles took over despair and sadness in the city of Bacolod.

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Bacolod is so much different from Manila, it's pace of life does not resonate with the consumerism centered lifestyle in Manila. It's more relaxed with every little things you need are just around you and roads that will lead you to other places are just a bus and ferry boat ride away. Probably the main reason why travelers also visit this part of the Philippines. It is part of that center of a movement where people could come and go or stay and still carry that momentum of living a quality life based not on material things but rather on close personal relationships.

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I arrived at Bacolod on a rainy Friday afternoon, I was pretty sure that time that typhoon Juan was intent on crashing the Masskara street party. I headed straight to Kareen's place upon arriving. Kareen is an avid backpacker who've been in Europe and many parts of Asia. She used to stay at friends whom she meet while on the road and also people from couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is like the facebook for travelers, where people could talk about hosting other travelers or surfing at people's places for a short time.

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This has been a wonderful idea to bring people from other parts of the world to meet new people and of course to cheapen the cost of traveling which I believe and is now starting to see, that it is not anymore limited to the rich people.

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Kareen was also hosting another backpacker from New Zealand (but is now based in Melbourne), Michelle. Just like Kareen, Michelle has ventured solo (meeting new/old friends along the way aside from gaining a gazillion of wonderful experiences) across Asia and Europe and is now on her 4th week in the Philippines. (she came to Bacolod by way of Dumaguete). The next day Obi, a German backpacker arrived from some place in Iloilo, he too had a vast experience in traveling many countries and just by listening to their backpacking stories, I can't help but just to be inspired by what they've been doing with their life. They are indeed "living" the most of their life.

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We went to Lacson street to watch the Electric Masskara parade on Friday night. There were street party along the long road where people drinking beers on the sidewalk, eating Bacolod chicken inasal, bands performing on makeshift stages and crowds walking along. It was a festive atmosphere and I was glad to have came to experience Masskara for the first time.

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Saturday, we went on a walking foodtrip in downtown Bacolod, then waited for another Masskara street parade over Red Horse and an order of juicy lechon. Saturday night, we had dinner at the "Manokan Country" and had a great chicken inasal. The crowd was huge, with merrymaking, drinking and eating happening all around you. Many bands performing on different stages along the town place all the way through Lacson street. People celebrating life it was just awesome.

I met new friends by way of Kareen, from Michelle, to a bunch of German backpackers and NGO workers based in Bacolod to those who've been living there, Joyjoy, April, Devine, John, Eric, Max, Obi and more and I also met up with old friends like Dee (who is based there) and Sheila who I bumped into in the street party.

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Over-all it was a great experience for me. I'd love to come back to Bacolod soon on a longer stay so I could climb nearby Mt. Kanlaon and do more walking foodtrip and afterward either take the bus to Dumaguete or a ferry to Iloilo. Possibilities are endless when you're on the road.

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We also went to Mambukal, the Ruins, and passed by Silay on the way to the airport. I'll write about the Masskara sidetrip on another blog entry.

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The Ruins in Talisay City – Built for the Romantics


We all deal and react differently when one is beset with a loss of a love one. Having our hearts torn by separation from someone we love deeply produces a sudden urge that unleashes a series of actions that bursts our inner rage into the world. In my case - I go along with a few friends at Mogwai in Cubao X and just drink myself to half death. The son of Chavit Singson, after a fight with Lovie Poe went to Hong Kong with intentions of a drug binge trip - well, we all knew how that one turned out.

For Don Mariano Lacson, the feeling of despair brought upon the untimely passing of his beloved wife, Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady he met in Hongkong, was so overwhelming that he ended up building a mansion in the center of his vast sugar plantation in Talisay City, Negros in honor of her memory.

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That gesture bridled by love and misery remains alive up to this day courtesy of its ruined structure. A tower might crumble and rot in time but not this mansion that Don Mariano built, its skeletal remains has not diminished its glory, rather it brought forth a more interesting aspect to it and has attracted curiosity among both history and romance lovers. FYI: I am more of a history lover than bullshit tales of romance Hah!

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My friend Dee, accompanied me to The Ruins - from Bacolod City, we took a short jeepney ride and a tricycle through a residential area in Octagon Village in Brgy. Bata. This neo-Romanesque mansion became the resident of the lonely sugar baron, Don Mariano and his children and soon became a popular place in Talisay City as the site of numerous social occasions attended by the who's who of that time. Imagine a party held at the spacious garden beside the mansion with guests sipping wines dressed in early 1900's fashion and little kids frolicking around with maids and butlers romancing by the fountain.

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Life was so good back then I would imagine as I'm sure the emptiness that Don Mariano felt has somehow diminished just by setting refuge and shelter in this 900 square meter house that stands 2 storeys high highlighted by its strong structures, a grand staircase and wide skeletal windows, sitting by the window smoking a pipe and watching as the ships sails pass and disappears over the Talisay coastline.

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George Estregan errm I mean Don Mariano and Maria Braga.
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The Mansion met its demise in early World War II as the Filipinos and American troops were forced into retreat by the advancing Japanese Imperial Army, the Americans wary that the mansion will be transformed into a headquarters by the Japanese, burned down the mansion to avoid it being used as a strategic base of Japanese operation in Negros.

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 We went there during a cloudy mid-afternoon that makes it impossible for me to get a good looking sky to complement as a background for this scenic mansion ruin. Nevertheless, the absence of a blue sky proved symbolic to this ruin - it may lack its original fervor and spirit nowadays but its story remains forever - as to its origin and history serves as an inspiring tale for the romantics in all of us.

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Here is a photograph of me - taken by my friend Dee, while I try hard to make my own impersonation of Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson. - just like the sugar baron, I'm still waiting for my Dona Maria Braga.
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Mambukal Waterfalls


After a night of booze filled merry making in the streets of Bacolod, we took a side trip the next day to Mambukal Mountain resort located at Minoyan, Murcia near the foot of scenic Mount Kanlaon. We left early at about 9 AM, went straight to Libertad market and had a quick breakfast at "mabuhay kape" - a simple coffee shop that serves perfect native coffee at only 10 pesos per cup.

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We took a bus at the terminal located at Libertad street near the market for the one hour trip to Mambukal. An hour later we reached our destination. There's a 30 pesos entrance fee and the place has now become a resort with air conditioned rooms, a swimming pool and other amenities that would delight visitors fond of easy traveling.    

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Kareen says she prefers the old Mambukal though, where its more nature friendly with minimal infrastructures and the place was then more than ideal spot for overnight camping on a tent. I agree with her because sometimes the problem with our tourism practices is we tend to think about "development" in terms of building cement structures thus neglecting the effects it would create to the environment. It somehow produces a deteriorating effect to the natural surroundings.

There are now cemented steps leading to the waterfalls, gone are the nature trails that was more idealic. It was a good thing though that the administrator of the place have taken some steps to safeguarding the trees and making sure though that amidst the development, Mambukal would still be covered with greens.

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After an hour of hiking we reached the falls, our German friends Max and Obi took turns jumping from a rock and into the water. Something I will never attempt to do.
 
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Going down we saw a lot of bats flying over as the trees at Mambukal serves as their nesting place during the day. The first three waterfalls is off limits for swimming, Max tried to jump on one of the three but was told not to by one of the caretakers because the water isn't that deep and divers could hurt themselves upon landing on the water.

- the "bats out of hell"

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- Max, pleading to let him jump.

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A nice group picture ( Max, Obi, Kareen, me and Michelle)

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We had a late lunch after on the foot of Mambukal and feasted on bangus sisig, kilawin and tuna sinigang. Then rode the top of the bus on the way back to Bacolod.



Over-all the short journey to Mambukal was a nice side trip to my Masskara experience in Bacolod. We again passed by sugar cane plantation, scenic farms, small towns and had a great view of Mount Kanlaon while being greeted by warm smiles of the people along the way.

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Silay's Heritage District & the Balay Negrense

During the Masskara Festival in Bacolod, I also went an a sidetrip to Mambukal, nearby Silay and the Ruins as well.

While on the way to Silay-Bacolod airport, my friend Dee accompanied me to Silay City, which is known for its well preserved heritage district that boasts of numerous ancestral houses which the National Historical Institute has declared as national landmarks. Among these houses was the "Balay Negrense" a sprawling house built in 1897 by sugar baron Don Victor Fernandez Gaston.

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Through the years the home was abandoned and was left to age in time until a group of Silay history advocates decided to restore the house and make it a museum that showcases old furniture owned by the Gaston family and other donated artifacts from the period the house was built.

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The house has a number of spacious rooms on the second floor, an office and piano room on the ground floor, a basement, the kitchen and a lavish dining room at the back of the ground floor not to mention a grand staircase. I was imagining the house back in the old days when the Gaston family would host lovely parties or the debut of one of their beautiful daughters whose picture hangs on the wall on the second floor.

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I remember my grandparents home, though theirs was built in the early 60's not as ancestral as the houses in Silay or that of the Gaston's but I could imagine the simple yet grandeur kind of life they have back then. The party at the plaza, fiestas and that small but close knit barrio feel or what we call "bayanihan" culture - something the current generation has ceased to experience.

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Other pictures of the Balay Negrense:

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Near the Balay Negrense is the town plaza and the San Diego Cathedral which was designed by Italian architect Lucio Bernasconi in 1920. We took a walk around town on its clean town plaza and later settled at this nice "Kapihan" which also serves native Bacolod coffee. I wish I could have done more exploration around the place.

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